I think I have a severe case of spring fever. Everything suddenly seems to need cleaning and I don’t want to be inside. The sun is glittering on the lake and I’m ready to hit the pool.
Spring and fall are my two favorite times of year. Although I love the summer with its lazy afternoons floating on a raft with the smell of barbecue wafting through the screens, I mind the heat. Maybe it’s because I grew up on the east coast, but when the thermometer starts inching up toward the hundred degree mark, let there be air and plenty of it.
When I first moved to Arkansas it was the middle of June. The oppressive heat and humidity had descended on the area like a heavy warm blanket and trying to breathe was like inhaling liquid air. Many people in that area had swamp coolers, as they function better than conventional A/C units in the moist climate. Loud, and somewhat drippy, they are certainly better than slow cooking inside your house during the summer.
Often on the weekends in the cooler morning hours we’d go fishing in the local rivers and sit on the quiet banks with only the constant humming of insects to break the silence. Quite beautiful, that area, with a touch of wildness to the countryside, as you never knew when a curious reptile might crawl up beside you for a bit of company. At first, it just scared me a little bit, or maybe a large bit. The locals found me as different as I found them. Soon after I’d uttered my first word, the reply would generally come, “you’re not from around here, are you?” Iced tea was served with enough sugar to be classified as simple syrup, and barbecue was not an option, but a requirement in preparing a meal.
I adapted. Soon I became accustomed to breathing a little slower, and eventually learned to sweat properly, which was an issue for me and not something I ever thought I’d be establishing a learning curve with regards to doing. You wore boots with shorts to keep the bugs off your legs, and a hat to keep the relentless sun off your face, but the living there truly was easy in its way. People, out of necessity due to the weather, simply moved at a slower pace. I grew to appreciate it more as one day moved lazily into the next.
We lived about forty minutes north of Texarkana. An unusual city in that State Line Boulevard, which was the main drag through the center of the city, had Texas signs to the west and Arkansas to the east. You could shop in a different state simply by crossing the street. Interesting.
Often if my husband had a weekend off we’d load up the car and venture south, either into Louisiana or sometimes we’d cross the border into Texas where his family was located. Texas was a vast piece of acreage, seeming to be never-ending and quite different in topography as you moved from one part of it to another. I saw my first dust storm there. With all the weather in the news these days, I think of that day often. Driving in a wide open area of the state mostly accented by tumbleweeds and land stretching flat and as far as the eye could see. The sky was overcast, but it was hot and incredibly high humidity. My husband, who was from that area, pointed out the window. What looked to me to be a curtain of darkness was moving across the plains to our left. Assessing the situation and approaching a dusty little town we opted to take shelter inside a small diner associated with a gas station. People pulling up outside had moved their handkerchiefs over their faces as they made they way from their cars to the safety of the restaurant. It passed over us like a cloud from the recesses of Hades silting sand and dust through the windows and sounding like a runaway train rolling across the sky. Scared me to death. It passed over us at last and one local looking at my white face, shrugged and said, “this ain’t my first rodeo”, which I assumed meant he’d experienced this phenomena before, and went about consuming a generous fork of homemade apple pie then washing it down with a slug of coffee. It may not have been his first rodeo, but it was definitely mine, and I needed to change my pants. I half expected to find Stephen King sitting in a booth taking notes for his next book.
After it passed and things died down we found our car covered in dust and dirt and after taking a stab at cleaning the windows made our way south towards our destination at the Gulf Coast. Mexican food is high on my list of favorite foods, residing just one notch below the ultimate hamburger. Galveston, where we were headed he assured me offered some of the best Tex-Mex restaurants in a state known for its Tex-Mex restaurants. As dry as my mouth was after the sand storm I was still able to work up a modicum of saliva at the thought.
Checking in at a local hotel we relaxed for a while, and then starving went in search of the much touted great dinner. It was a small adobe restaurant, typically Mexican in style, with arches with rustic brick accents leading the way in. Inside we found a lively group buoyed quite possibly by trays of icy margaritas moving from table to table in the dining room. A mariachi band of four were playing on a small stage and the smell filling the room made my mouth water before my behind hit the vinyl in my chair,
True to his word, it was one of the best Mexican dining experiences I’ve ever had. Guacamole was made at the table mixed fresh in a large bowl with squeezed limes and hot peppers according to taste and served with house made tortilla chips that were salty, light, and crunchy and absolutely delicious. Tempted by the refreshing look of the drinks passing our table we washed down the appetizer with a shot of tequila, a lick of salt and a slice of lime and waited for the main course. Deciding to share our plates, he ordered Shrimp Diablo, which according to the menu description required a fire extinguisher to be provided next to your plate, and I ordered chimichangas. They were served on piping hot plates with sides of black beans and sweet corn cakes. Absolutely yummy. For dessert we put out the heat with some fried ice cream.
Since then, I’ve never eaten better. Just perfect. This is an excellent recipe for chimichangas. Give it a try. Heat it up according to your fire extinguisher requirements.
Chicken Tomatillo Chimichangas
2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1 chipotle chilli, seeded (add heat as desired)
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 onions, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
2 cups, drained canned tomatillos
2 1/2 cups cooked pinto beans (canned or fresh)
8 10″ flour tortillas
oil for frying
salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a large saucepan put the chicken breasts and the chilli and cover with water. Bring to a rolling boil, reduce heat to simmer and cook for 15 mins. until chicken is cooked and chilli is soft. Remove chilli and chop finely. Place chicken on a plate and when cool shred with two forks.
Heat oil in large skillet. Cook the onions until translucent. Add garlic and ground spices and continue cooking for 3-4 mins. Add the tomatillos and beans. Cook on med. heat for 5 mins. stirring constantly to break up tomatillos and some beans (I sometimes lightly mash with a potato masher). Simmer gently for 5 mins. more. Add the chicken and seasoning.
Wrap the tortillas in foil. Place them on a plate over boiling water for 5 mins. until pliable.
Spoon one-eighth of the mixture onto the center of each tortilla. Fold the bottom of the tortilla up and the top down to make a package. Secure with a toothpick.
Heat oil in large skillet. Fry the chimichangas in batches until crisp on all sides. Drain on paper towel.
I serve these with sour cream, salsa and guacamole.